Faith groups in the southern African nation of Malawi have condemned the tearing up of Bibles by people at Mangochi, a predominantly Muslim district in the country's southern region - writes Frank Jomo.
Gideon International, a Christian organisation that distributes free Bibles in conjunction with the Bible Society of Malawi, early in October 2010 handed out the Christian holy book to students in the district, angering parents who thought the two organisations were planning to convert their children.
"The Holy Bible was being given to children at a school and all the children seemed to have been given [the Bible], which infuriated some Muslim parents who tore the holy books," the acting chairperson of the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) , a multi-faith pressure group, the Rev MacDonald Kadawati told the Nation newspaper on 7 October.
"Others from the same faith quickly mobilised each other and collected the Bibles and returned them to Gideon International," said Kadawati.
The PAC leader told the Blantyre-based newspaper that the desecration of the Bible was a sad case of intolerance. He said there is an urgent need to educate religious followers to respect one another’s holy books. Still, noted Kadawati, it was an isolated case and did not reflect the views of the majority of Malawi's Muslims.
The Muslim Association of Malawi Secretary General, Imran Sharif, agreed it was a rare event perpetrated by a few fanatics but called on Christians to be sensitive when conducting their programmes, especially in places where the majority are from other faiths.
"The Holy Bible was being given to anybody and that did not go down well with some parents," Sharif said. "Let us respect each other's sacred books. At the same time, let me urge all faith groups when distributing their materials or holy books to be cautious and selective."
Police in Mangochi, 200 kilometres (120 miles) south of the commercial capital, Blantyre, told the Zodiak Broadcasting Station they were investigating the case.
The private radio station reported that parents in the district warned teachers not to allow Christian missionaries to distribute Bibles there.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]